Celebrating pulses

Did you know that today, 10th February is World Pulses Day? And why not, as pulses — beans, peas, chickpeas and lentils – are awesome for so many reasons and play a key role in a whole-food plant-based diet.

But why have they been designated their own special day? As with most international or national ‘days’, it’s really a campaign to increase awareness of the importance of pulses in our global food system. And for us as humans, the impact of climate change, growing populations and food scarcity and security, finding a sustainable food source that provides excellent nutrition and minimal environmental impact is key to our future survival on this planet. And pulses may just be the answer.So what difference can pulses make?

Firstly, they are good for health. And in a world where chronic health problems are on a massive increase, that’s a major factor. Research shows that pulses can contribute towards reducing health problems like heart disease and obesity, a major issue in countries that have an excess of food products but malnutrition (ie: getting too much of the bulk nutrients, not enough of essential micronutrients). Equally, they are great for those populations that still suffer from food scarcity and undernutrition. Because beans, lentils, peas and chickpeas are packed full of wonderful nutrients ranging from plant-base proteins to tiny rainbow phytonutrients. This infographic explains more.

As well as being good for us, they’re also good for the environment. They enrich the soil they grow in, reducing the need for harsh chemicals and fertilisers, which is better for the local ecosystem and waterways. They grow in harsh environments, areas of the world where many things won’t grow, a plus for remote populations. And they also have the lowest carbon footprint of any food group, requiring fewer natural resources. For example, approximately 1800 gallons of water is needed to produce 1lb of meat, whereas only 43 gallons are needed to produce 1lb of pulses. That’s a huge difference.

There are so many different ways to use pulses in every day meals, ranging from super snacks like hummus and falafels, to curries, savoury bakes and even bread. Here are links to some of my favourite recipes where beans, lentils, peas or chickpeas are the star.

If you want to know more about pulses and World Pulses Day, have a look at their website https://pulses.org/what-are-pulses – there’s some fascinating information on there.

So on World Pulses Day, are you going to celebrate with a special dish? Do let me know what you choose to eat!

Simple New Year changes that have a big impact

Wow, it’s the last day of 2018! What a busy year it’s been. How’s it been for you? For me, there’s been some amazing experiences, incredible changes and smattering of challenges and obstacles. A pretty standard year all in all!

So now it’s time to start thinking about the new year ahead. Have you thought about your New Year’s resolutions, or what you would like to achieve over the next 12 months? For many, January is a time for ‘going on a diet’ and ‘getting fit’. Both great goals to have, but more often than not the enthusiasm starts to wane after just a couple of weeks. Or it might be that you are planning on going plant-based, either by joining a campaign like Veganuary or following your own ideas. This works really well for anyone who is an ‘all-or-nothing’ kind of person. But it’s not for everyone.

I actually think that early January is not a good time of year to make major changes. For a start, the weather is cold and the whole month can seem rather dull and miserable after the colourful build up to Christmas. Going on a diet has connotations of missing out or deprivation. The cold weather outside naturally drives us towards warming comfort foods rather than salad. Plus the ‘hang-over’ from all the Christmas and New Year excitement and celebrations takes a while to pass.

It’s because of this that I never run my Eat Well Live Well course until the end of January or beginning of February – that’s the time when you’re fully recovered from the festive fun and truly ready to make some positive, lasting changes.

Now that’s not to say that being a bingeing coach potato is a good idea! If you want to ease yourself into a positive health change or just want to make some easy changes, here are 5 simple changes to make that will have a big impact.

  1. Eat more. Ha, bet you didn’t expect that one first! If you’ve pigged out over the last week, this might not sound like a good thing. But I don’t mean eat more of everything. Just eat more fresh fruit and vegetables every day, some raw, some cooked. An incredible 75% of the UK population still don’t hit the 5-a-day target (click here for statistics) so if you are one of them, now’s your chance to go for it. But don’t stop at 5. As fresh fruit and vegetables are packed full of amazing nutrients and phytonutrients that support our bodies right at cellular level, 10 portions a day is much nearer to what we should be aiming for. Your body will love you for it and you’ll soon start feeling the benefits. Plus if you fill up on the fresh stuff, there’s less room for the junk!

2) Go brown. White flour, pasta and rice have all their wonderful nutrients stripped away and all you’re left with is the starchy endosperm that rapidly gets broken down into simple sugars. It’s calories and not much else. Wholegrains on the other hand retain their fabulous fibre, essential oils and protein as well as other nutrients. They’re more filling and your helpful friendly bacteria love them. If you want to give it a try but don’t think your family will be on board with it, don’t tell them! Just change one at a time and see if they notice (sneaky but effective 😉 )

3) Eat real. Have you explored the label on processed foods recently, even ‘healthy’, and specifically ‘free-from’ items? Do you recognise half the ingredients? Many of the common items bought contain a cacophony of refined ingredients or lab-made chemicals. Even ‘natural’ ones are not quite as natural as you might think. Hundreds of new chemicals are passed as safe for human consumption every year, but most have not been tested over long periods of time (for accumulation) or in combination with other chemicals. A report last year highlighted that 51% of the food consumed in the UK is now ‘ultra-processed‘. That’s far away from the original ingredient, if it even had one. Our bodies take time to recognise and respond to these chemicals. They much prefer things simple and natural. So next time you go to buy something, ask yourself “Is this real?”. If not, put it back on the shelf and find something else to put in your basket.

4) Eat a rainbow. I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about this before, but it’s so important, I’m saying it again! Plant foods all contain magical tiny chemicals that help support the body in a multitude of ways. We evolved foraging off the land and consumed whatever the land provided, much of which was colourful and attractive to the eye. Try to make a conscience decision to eat red, orange, yellow, green, blue/purple, brown and white produce every day.

5) Eat variety. As well as eating different colours, we evolved eating a wide variety of food items – basically whatever was found. Variety is key to our gut health, to look after our magical microbiome. The modern western diet tends to offer four main food sources – meat, dairy, soya and wheat – as 90% of the food eaten. Our ancestors are known to have eaten about 130 sources. Whilst that may be hard to achieve, try to avoid eating the same things day in, day out. Make a conscience effort to try new things too. Your gut will love you for it!

That’s it – more, brown, real, rainbow variety and you’re set for a healthy 2019! If you need any recipe ideas, then have a browse through the recipe index on the menu above. There’s loads to try, all of which will help you achieve these 5 easy steps. If you haven’t already subscribed to the blog, why not do that now and get new recipes directly to your inbox?

Wishing you a very happy and healthy New Year.

The incredible rise of plant-based eating

If you’ve noticed lots of plant-based eating trivia in the news today, it’s because it’s World Vegan Day. Whilst the rise of plant-based eating may upset some, I for one am (unsurprisingly) delighted that more and more people, of all ages, are beginning to make changes to the way they eat.

Research by Waitrose (click here)  indicates that 1:8 people in the UK now classify themselves as vegetarian or vegan, with many more declaring they are ‘meat-reducers’. I’m sure the irony that the editor of Waitrose magazine resigned this week over his unnecessarily aggressive comments on vegans is not lost on them!

It’s amazing how quickly things have changed in a very short period of time. I think back to when I first started The Sensitive Foodie blog in 2012 – it was all shiny and new then! Now plant-based cookbooks are the third most popular genre and it’s even featured on Great British Bake-off! It’s now much easier to eat out, with most restaurants offering at least one option and supermarkets are employing chefs to develop new ranges of vegan ready meals.

And it’s not just the UK; the movement is growing throughout Europe and further afield.

Whilst detractors may dismiss these changes as a short-term fad fuelled by social media, there are many good solid reasons why people are making the move to a more plant-based lifestyle

  • Health. Basically, eating a diet that’s high in plant foods is good for you. And there’s piles of research that backs it up. In particular, a whole-food plant-based diet can be used to reverse chronic health problems like type 2 diabetes and heart disease and halt a whole host of other health challenges ranging from multiple sclerosis to cancer.
  • Weight. Eating plant-based food that is packed with fibre helps you lose weight. Lots of people who have come on my Eat Well Live Well course have had amazing success, some losing up to a stone in only three months. That’s eating whole plant-food not refined and processed ready meals. Sorry to be a bore, but junk food is still junk food!
  • Environment. Humans have a devastating impact on the world. The food industry, particularly animal-based food, uses huge amounts of natural resources and produces lots of waste. And an every-increasing world population that continues to pillage and pollute means the problem is only going to get worse unless action is taken. There are many things we can do as individuals to help care for our beautiful world; eating a plant-based diet has the most direct impact.
  • Animals. The internet has helped opened people’s eyes to the reality of using animals as food, something that many of us were brought up to believe was totally normal, natural and necessary. Footage of intensively farmed animals fighting to survive, processes in abattoirs or the heart-broken cry of a cow parted from her new-born calf is now readily available. And it’s making people think.

The food industry is changing too. As demand increases, so does the variety of products available. This year alone has seen a 61% increase in new vegan products on the market.

But a word of warning; if you are increasing the amount of plant-based food in your diet for your health or to lose weight, swapping to vegan versions of processed foods will not yield the results you are looking for. Many of these new products, or ‘accidently vegan’ products like Oreo cookies or Ben and Jerry’s vegan ice cream are packed with refined sugars and fats as well as food-like chemicals, just like their mainstream versions.

When I changed to a whole-food plant-based diet because of my food intolerances, there was much less to tempt me away – there just wasn’t the option. Now it’s much harder and I think I would struggle if my new ways of eating weren’t firmly established. My taste-buds are definitely attuned to whole foods; anything with refined sugar in is just way too sweet and not enjoyable at all.

The good thing about more options though is that it’s much easier to make positive changes. There are more resources available too, from organisations like Viva and Veganuary, on-line programmes and Facebook groups and a whole variety of cookery books. And websites, like The Sensitive Foodie Kitchen of course. My blog has a whole variety of simple but tasty recipes that have been road-tested and work, which is most important.

If you find the world of plant-based eating for health fascinating and want to read more, my new book The Sensitive Foodie: Eat Yourself Well will be for you. Being published early 2019, it covers all sorts of information you may not have come across before as well as over 100 recipes to try yourself at home.

In the meantime, if you’ve started your own plant-based journey, congratulations for taking action that helps not only yourself but the world around you. Happy eating!

 

 

 

 

Rainbow dal

If I ever ask my family what they fancy for dinner, more often than not the answer is dal. Ever since our time living in India, it has become a firm favourite for all of us. And we’re not the only ones as the page with my simple dal recipe (find it here) is one of the most frequently visited on the website.

As you have probably gathered by now, I love a bit of rainbow eating. Adding a variety of colourful vegetables to dishes can increase their micro and phytonutrient properties enormously. And dal is the perfect base for a rainbow make-over, so it just had to happen!

Just changing from white to red onion improves the phytonutrient profile, as the red pigment contains anthocyanins. These tiny chemicals help support cell functions and act as anti-oxidants, neutralising free radical activity. Essentially, they contribute to supporting our health. There are a huge number of different types of anthocyanins, and as with all phytonutrients they work best together as a team, hence why whole-foods are always the best option.

Sweet potatoes and spinach contains their own variety of micro and phytonutrients too, as does turmeric, tomato and the curry leaves. In fact this rainbow dal really is a veritable smorgasbord of pigments! Add in the fab fibre content and this dish really is one that will make both your taste-buds and your body buzz with joy!

The most important thing about this rainbow dal, though, is that it tastes gorgeous! Adding the extra vegetable gives it more body and texture, so all the senses are cared for. Serve it with a good dollop of dairy-free yoghurt and some steamed wholegrain rice and it will fill the hungriest of stomachs too.

So next time you’re cooking up a dal, bring a bit more rainbow power to the dinner table and give this one a go. Don’t forget to let me know how you get on. Enjoy!

Rainbow dal – serves 4
1 red onion
2 cloves garlic
2 medium tomatoes
2 medium or 1 large sweet potato
10-12 curry leaves
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
225g yellow split peas
750ml water
150g spinach
for the tempering:
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
4 dried red chillis and/or 2 fresh red chillis sliced lengthways
2cm piece of ginger thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh coriander

Chop the onion and tomatoes, finely chop the garlic. Peel and dice the sweet potato.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a medium sized saucepan until bubbling then add the onion. Lower the heat and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring to make sure it doesn’t burn. Add the chopped tomato, curry leaves and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes, then add the sweet potato. Simmer for a couple of minutes.

Stir in the ground tumeric, lentils or yellow split peas and a good pinch of salt. Leave to cook for a couple of minutes then add the water. Pop on the saucepan lid, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes or so until the water is absorbed, the sweet potato soft and the dal is thick and sumptuous. Add the spinach leaves and cook for another couple of minutes until wilted.

Heat a small non-stick pan and add the cumin and black mustard seeds. Once the seeds start to pop and release their aromas (about 1 1/2 minutes), turn off the heat and add the dried red chillis and ginger. Shake the pan and let them cook in the residual pan heat. After a couple of minutes, tip the tempering into the dal, stir well to combine and heat through gently.

Finally, add a squeeze of lemon juice and the fresh chopped coriander then serve.

Delicious plant-based Pad thai

It’s supposed to be the first day of autumn today. After a couple of weeks of distinctly autumnal weather, today’s glorious sunshine surely signals that summer has just a bit more to give. That’s good news as I’m defiantly not ready for the colder temperatures and early evenings just yet.

I’ve had a real hankering for pad thai recently, a dish that reminds me of hot holidays and sultry evenings out during our time in India. I know it’s not an Indian dish, but during that time I seemed to have it on a regular basis, giving it a particularly warm place in my memory!

The flavours in Pad Thai traditionally come from fish sauce and tamarind. To make it fully plant-based and super tasty, I prefer a peanut-based sauce. And I use a mix of tamari and lime juice rather than tamarind for the deeper flavour, just because they are more common stables in my kitchen. Blitzing the sauce all together  takes seconds and by using brown rice noodles that take only a couple of minutes to soften this really is a rapidly assembled dish that doesn’t miss out on those distinctly Asian flavours. I guess this sauce is more like Gado Gado and tastes wonderful with simple steamed veggies and rice.

Peanut butter supplies a good helping of fats in this dish. Sources of whole fats are a key feature of a whole-food plant-based way of eating – as long as the peanut butter in your jar is 100%. To make it cheap, most brands of peanut butter include extra refined oils, salt and often sugar. None of these are needed and turns this simple nut butter (even though it’s not a nut!) from health food to junk food in one foul swoop.

So what’s the solution? The easiest is to buy only 100% peanut butter. Unfortunately, this can be more expensive, although some home-brand supermarket versions are now available at a good price. The other solution is to make your own – it’s not that difficult and once you’ve made it once, you’re suddenly much more mindful about how many peanuts are needed to make just a small amount of peanut butter. I’ll do another blog post soon showing you how. There is something rather wonderfully satisfying about making your own; I’ve found I eat less now I’ve seen just how many peanuts are in one spoonful of peanut butter.

As soon as anything is ground down and processed, it’s difficult to calculate how much you are actually eating. Even eating a handful of shelled peanuts means you are probably consuming more than you would if you were shelling them yourself. Anything that Mother Nature has wrapped up in packaging should be eaten with more care. After all, if you are sitting eating nuts that have to be shelled, you can’t eat palmfuls at a time and you reach satiation point way before the packet has gone, unlike shelled (and often salted) nuts that are just so easy to wolf down.

If you cannot tolerate peanuts, then almond butter will work but the underlying flavour will be slightly different. And if you’re completely nut-free, try some sunflower seed butter instead. Again, a slightly different flavour but worth experimenting with.

Back to the Pad Thai. Apart from the yummy sauce, it’s the textures that tick my boxes, with lightly stir-fried broccoli or beans and lovely fresh crunchy bean sprouts mixed with sweet red pepper. It’s a definite rainbow in a dish. Make sure the tofu you use is extra firm otherwise it will just crumble in the pan rather than brown. Smoked works as well as plain, if you fancy something different, or leave it out all together if you just fancy the veg.

Of course, this dish can be made any time of the year, not just summer. In fact, it’s the perfect bit of warming sunshine on a cold winters day! Do let me know if you make it – and if the sun shines for you too!

Plant-based pad thai (serves 2)
2 nests of brown rice noodles
1 red pepper, finely sliced
3 spring onions, finely sliced
3-4 spears broccoli with stems, sliced
handful of green beans, sliced
100g bean sprouts
100g extra firm tofu cut into small chunks
handful of chopped fresh coriander
handful of chopped peanuts
chopped fresh red chilli (optional)
For the sauce:
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons peanut butter
1 tablespoon maple syrup
juice of 2 limes
4-5 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

Place all the sauce ingredients into a small blender bowl and whizz until thick and well-combined. If it’s too thick, add water to loosen. Place the rice noodles in a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes until soft. Drain.

Heat a little water in a non-stick frying pan and fry the tofu until it starts to become lightly browned. Tip into a bowl, then add a little more water and stir fry all the vegetables except the beansprouts for a few minutes until they start to soften but remain crunchy.  Return the tofu to the pan along with the beansprouts and noodles, mix together well then pour over the sauce. Cook on a low heat for 3-4 minutes.

Serve in large bowls and garnish with fresh coriander, peanuts and red chilli if using. Eat straight away.

Baked spicy stuffed aubergine

Luckily my lovely husband is really open to eating my creations; he celebrates the successes and tolerates the disasters! He’ll try most things but there are two vegetables he just can’t get to grips with – aubergine and beetroot, which is a shame as I love them both. But as he’s away a lot with work, I make sure I get my fill then, rather than torturing him with things he just won’t like.

Hopefully you don’t have the same dislike as him because I have two delicious recipes to share with you – one beetroot coming up soon and this aubergine dish.  This recipe is super easy and ridiculously tasty, and is packed full of amazing plant-based nutrients. It also features two great sources of plant protein and a shed load of fibre to keep your gut microbes happy.

In the past, the tiny seeds found in the flesh of aubergine have given it a reputation of being bitter. You may be surprised to hear that it’s nicotine in the seeds that create that bitter flavour. There’s only a small amount though, so don’t fret that you’ll suddenly find yourself on a 20 aubergine a day habit! The traditional way of modifying this was to coat it in salt which would draw out the water from the flesh along with the bitterness, but it’s rare to find a really bitter one these days as cross-breeding has modified the flavour to make it more palatable.

The exciting thing about aubergine is it’s colour. In the world of rainbow eating, purple foods are hard to come by. And aubergine skin has a gorgeously deep purple hue. It’s colour comes from a powerful phytonutrient called nasunin and is helps to protect cell membranes from damage. It also helps to remove excess iron from the blood stream. This may sound like something you don’t want to happen, but excess iron can cause havoc in the body if left circulating and some people have problems excreting it. So anything that helps is a good thing, although you’d need to eat it on a regular basis!

This recipe is perfect for using up leftover rice or quinoa. It’s so easy to cook too much of both. I never want to waste food, so I’m always looking for ways to use it up, and making a tasty stuffing is perfect. Both wholegrain brown rice and quinoa are good sources of plant protein, as are black beans. Until fairly recently, these small legumes were not that easy to find in the shops, but their rising popularity in the plant-based food world has got them up on the shelf – hooray! High in protein and insoluble fibre, they also contain a wide range of minerals including zinc which is essential for healthy immune system. Interestingly, black beans contain phytonutrients from the same group as aubergine, and are really a deep red/purple colour, so you’re getting a double whammy on the purple nutrient compounds with anti-oxidants that support our cells.

This recipe can be used for 2 or 4 people – if you are catering for four, serve one half with some spicy roasted sweet potatoes and a green veg like broccoli or stir fried cabbage. If you want to keep it simple, just serve on a bed of mixed green leaves. And if you are cooking for one, just halve the recipe and enjoy it all by yourself! If you have time, whizz up coriander dairy-free yoghurt to drizzle over the top. It finishes it off perfectly.

Baked spicy stuffed aubergine (serves 2-4 people)
2 medium sized aubergines
1 onion, diced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 fat garlic cloves, finely diced
2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
100g mushrooms, chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon red chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper
100g cooked wholegrain rice and quinoa (one or both)
2 big handfuls spinach, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh coriander, stems and leaves, chopped

Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC. Rinse and dry the aubergines then slice in half lengthways. You need to remove most of the flesh, so leaving a 1cm rim, cut a round into the flesh, score through the centre bit to make a dice and scoop it out with a teaspoon. Rub a smidge of olive oil onto the outside of the skin, place on a baking sheet, cover with foil and bake for 15 minutes or so until it starts to soften and become pliable.

Whilst the skin is baking, chop the removed aubergine flesh and put to one side. Heat a couple of tablespoons of water in the bottom of a non-stick frying pan and sauté the onion and mustard seeds for 5 minutes until the seeds are lightly toasted and the onion starts to soften.Stir in the garlic and chopped aubergine flesh cook for a minute, then add the tomato and chopped mushrooms. Continue to cook for another few minutes until the tomatoes and aubergine are soft and mushy and water runs out of the mushrooms. Add the spices, salt and pepper, black beans and cooked rice/quinoa. Stir well to combine. Finally add the chopped spinach and most of the chopped coriander (retaining a few leaves for garnish) and simmer for another few minutes until the spinach has wilted and everything is hot and steamy. Check the flavour and add more spices or seasoning as needed. Once you’re happy with your flavour, turn off the heat.

Remove the aubergine shells from the oven. Carefully spoon in the stuffing mix, pressing it in lightly to make sure its well filled. Place back in the oven and back for another 15 minutes until the shell is lovely and soft and the top lightly browned. Remove from the oven and garnish with the reserved coriander. Drizzle coriander yoghurt dressing over the top if using and serve. Enjoy.